Swindon’s Census: what does it tell us about the housing crisis in Swindon?

The 2011 Census statistics for Local Authorities and wards are now available on line. I’ve just started ploughing through the ones for Swindon. Between 2001 and 2011 the population rose by 16%; by 29,209 – from 178,649 to 207,858 . The number of households increased by 17.5%, from 75,154 to 88,360. The stats help to give an indication of the housing situation in the town.  It’s fairly consistent with national trends.

As you can see by the chart below, despite 13,206 extra households the number of mortgages has declined absolutely, and steeply, as a percentage of the number of households (from 47.38% to 39.78%). Properties owned outright have increased but remain stable as a percentage of households. ‘Social housing’ has declined as a percentage, despite an increase in numbers of over 1,700. 

The most obvious change from 2001 is the startling increase in private rented accommodation. The number of households has doubled in the last ten years, but the number of people living in these households has more than tripled, to over 32,000, having overtaken the numbers living in ‘social housing’. This rise far outstrips the growth nationally which was 66% between 2001 and 2011.

In 2001 there were 7,004 households in private rented accommodation, but only 9,762 people living in them; an average of 1.39 people per household. Yet in 2011 there were 2.31 per household. This obviously reflects a big increase in families with children being forced to move into the sector because there is insufficient social housing and they are unable to afford a mortgage. Since the crash, the high down payments of 20% or more have blocked people from getting a mortgage. Moreover the precarious employment situation makes people reluctant to commit to long term financial arrangements. Nationally 1,388,000 people are in part-time work only because they have been unable to gain a permanent job.  Over the 10 years between the two censuses there has been an increase of 5,226 people in part-time work in Swindon. Unemployment in Swindon had climbed to 7,900 in September of last year, even before the recent round of redundancies at Honda and other local firms.

Given the absence of new Council house building the big increase of private rented accommodation has had a significant impact on Housing Benefit (HB). According to the Office of National Statistics figures the increase in numbers in receipt of HB in Council or Housing Association housing has been small (100 extra in Council housing from May 2010 to August 2012, 170 for Housing Associations) whereas the number of private renters on HB has increased in Swindon from 2,610 to 4,790 since November 2008. This reflects the much higher private rents. It also shows what a mistake it is for the government to rely on private rented accommodation to fill the housing gap; a policy which is driving up the HB bill. HB for private rented accommodation is, of course, higher than for ‘social housing’.

These statistics, together with the big increase in numbers on the Council waiting list underline the need for a Council house building programme. The January 2013 figures for Swindon showed 12,784 households on the waiting list and 2,309 on the transfer list. Even if you ignore those on Band C deemed to be ‘in low need’ and simply take those on Bands A (“in urgent need”) and B (“in need”) there were 7,010. Of these 4,452 qualify for a one bedroom property(excluding 150 OAP quality for 1 or 2 bedroom properties). When you add those who face having to pay the ‘bedroom tax’ then there are over 5,000 households who ‘need’ a one bedroom property. Since Council only handed out just over 100 one bedroom tenancies last year, accommodating all these people would take somewhere in the region of 50 years. Clearly, many on Band B will never get a tenancy, never mind those on Band C. 

According to the Council’s Strategic Housing Assessment from last year, the town produces 800 ‘affordable houses’ less than it needs, every year; that is, each year the shortage gets worse. The statistics from the Census provide evidence of this worsening crisis. 

Whilst building Council housing on any large scale would require a change of national government policy, the Council’s ruling group is not even calling for a change of policy. The government’s Housing Minister has admitted that less than half the homes required are being built. You would have thought that such a situation would require emergency action. Yet they continue to rely on ‘the market’ to provide a solution which it has never produced. 

One means of tackling this crisis, by emergency action, would be by writing off the housing ‘debt’ that was imposed on Councils in 2012, as a new Housing Revenue system was introduced. Nationally £13.2 billion was loaded onto Councils that owned their housing stock. In Swindon it was £138.6 million. If this debt was written off it would mean that Swindon Council would have an extra £10 million a year for refurbishment of its homes and new build. Even if the debt payments were suspended for a few years, the same amount of extra money would be available each year. This would serve to give a boost to the economy and serve a genuine social need.

Ultimately the question of subsidy will have to be addressed if the waiting lists numbers are to be cut. As the census figures for Swindon show, the massive increase in private rented accommodation will cost the government more in HB, and will not provide the stable accommodation and affordable rents that Council housing can provide.

Swindon Census statistics

 

2001

%  

2011

%  

increase

Total  

Increase

Population

178,649

 

207,858

16

29,209

Households

75,154

 

88,360

17.5

13,206

Owned outright

18,949

25.21

22,749

25.74

3,800

Occupants

36,956

 

43,484

 

6,528

Mortgage/Loan

35,984

47.38

35,153

39.78

-831

Occupants

98,466

 

96,756

 

-1,710

Shared ownership

388

0.5%

1,118

1.26

730

Occupants

914

 

2,371

 

1,457

Social Rented

12,830

17.08

14,382

16.27

1,552

Occupants

28,349

 

31,046

 

2,697

Council Rented

10,097

13.44

10,269

11.62

172

Occupants

22,996

 

22,423

 

-573

Housing Association

2,733

3.64

4,113

4.65

1,380

Occupants

5,353

 

8,623

 

2,270

Private Rented

7,004

9.32

14,169

16

7,155

Occupants

9,762

 

32,811

 

23,049

 

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2 Responses to Swindon’s Census: what does it tell us about the housing crisis in Swindon?

  1. Marcus says:

    Thank you Martin. The figures speak for themselves. Swindon benefited hugely from two major social housing developments – The Railway village / surrounding streets and The Parks N&S. We really need two MP’s and a raft of local Councillors with the acumen, imagination and foresight to grasp the problem and take some meaningful action for the people of Swindon. Never mind the politics, high salaries and expenses, just do the right thing.
    Come back David M-J!

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